Your First Year as a Veteran: SFC Richard Colon

During my time in the Army I’ve trained, deployed, fought and returned home. I’ve learned and experienced so much, but now my time in the military has come to an end. A soldier can’t stay in the fight forever. There comes a time when you’re thanked for your service and thrown into the open waters of civilian life. I find myself in this position right now, and with many helping hands, have discovered some valuable information that may be beneficial to transitioning service members and new Veterans.

First, you must have a plan. The military teaches us to be prepared for the unknown by consistently ensuring we are trained for every contingency in garrison and deployed environments. That same principle holds true in civilian life too. Be prepared for the times when conflicts arise between your work and home life. Understand the benefits that you are entitled to and how to access them. If you’re planning on furthering your education, there are programs you may qualify for such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Hazelwood Act. If you’re medically retired or receiving a disability rating, make sure you are enrolled in the VA Health Care System and that you know the location of the VA Clinic near you, your doctor’s name and phone number. If you are in the process of obtaining a VA service-connected disability rating, make sure that you have a certified claims representative to help you. Be prepared because once you’re out of the military, the protective blanket of warmth and comfort you are so accustomed to will be yanked away from you. It’ll be time to sink or swim. The time to prepare yourself for your next mission is now.

SFC Richard Colon

Second, know that there are resources available, you just have to know where to look. Gone are the times of looking to your chain of command for help. You’ll be required to help yourself by getting online or picking up the phone and contacting the appropriate organizations such as the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB), or your local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV) or American Legion. There are people willing to help you with just about any issue you may encounter, including financial management, medical concerns, VA disability assistance, or simply to find others that have served and can lend an ear. Seek advice and assistance from federal, state, county and city agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Many of these organizations exist to serve Veterans, service members and their families. You are not alone.

Finally, set yourself up for success. The civilian life, while sometimes intimidating, is just another chapter in your life. Transitioning can be much more difficult if you wait too long to relocate, move the family, and find a job. Don’t wait — begin planning your transition before you leave the service. Set yourself up for a win by ensuring you’re financially stable, having a place to move to and a plan to get there. Preparing your family for the transition is also essential. Remember, they are your team now, and you must communicate and coordinate with them in order to prosper as a family unit.

There will be many times you’ll look back on your service with pride and honor, knowing you’ve done something that a small percentage of the American public will never experience or understand. Prepare yourself for the next phase of your life by drawing on your past experiences and always remember, you’re never alone.

Once you’re out of uniform for good, civilian life can be jarring, but things will get better, I promise. You possess the discipline and desire to succeed. Utilize the many tools in your toolbox to accomplish your next mission.

~SFC Richard Colon

SFC Colon served in the U.S. Army for 22 years and will officially retire on October 31, 2016. He served two tours in Iraq, in 2005 to 2006, and during the Surge from 2007 to 2008. SFC Colon was awarded a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Master Aircrewmembers Badge and an Air Assault Badge.

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